Hammer Chillers, Download Â£2.99
Reviewed by Chris Limb
When talent show contestant Sam Pinker starts getting somewhere she is sure her life is about to change. However she is unprepared for the torrent of abuse directed at her online by an internet troll. Still, she does her best to ignore it â€“ after all itâ€™s not as if he actually can do anything to her is it?
Neil Stanley is a hard-working man; his wife is shocked at just how many hours he has to spend at his computer in the evening. However, things are not what they seem. Neil is addicted to internet abuse. Neil is Samâ€™s troll.
Neilâ€™s obsession grows and the abuse he directs at Sam becomes ever more foul and lurid until eventually it seems as if itâ€™s taking on a dangerous, noxious life of its own.
Itâ€™s no wonder theyâ€™re called trollsâ€¦
The explosion of the internet in general and social media in particular over the past few years has provided a wonderful new vector through which people, freed of social mores and conventions, can spew abuse at each other with no fear of reprisal and no acknowledgement of the real human being on the receiving end. Robin Inceâ€™s alarming and clever play illustrates the way this has revealed just how shallow the veneer of civilisation can be. Furthermore the prologue â€“ set during a medieval witch burning â€“ shows that this inherent cruelty and abuse is nothing new.
Alex Loweâ€™s performance as Neil is wonderfully extreme with just the right levels of humour, giggling insanity and finally a deadly menace that even threatens his long-suffering wife Val (Frog Stone).
His psychotic behaviour is counterbalanced by the tolerance and down to earth nature of Sam (Zoe Lister), her boyfriend Gavin (Con Oâ€™Neill) and their friend Martine (Cicely Giddings) whose humanity is tested to its limits as they descend towards the playâ€™s shocking â€“ and gruesome â€“ denouement.
The essence of the force that is feeding on and making Neilâ€™s mania real is never really explained, but it doesnâ€™t have to be. Like all good horror tales, Sticks and Stones leaves the listener with uneasy questions about the nature of evil and perhaps wondering whether the level of vitriol on display here is a potential in all of us.